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Into the Snow of Mount Mégantic National Parc

“What do you guys think about a weekend deep in the snow?”  Mecki touches an important topic during the dinner table discussion.

“Great!” says Katharina.  “And we must make sure we have real good snow, you know, the sticky type that’s so good for snowball fights.  Here in Montreal, the snow is far too powdery.”

And since everybody else likes Mecki’s suggestion, too – why, after all, are they in Montreal – she continues with what else she found out.  “The place with the most snow in Southern Quebec” she says “is Mont Mégantic in the Eastern Townships.  On average they get five metres per year in the valley, and seven on the summit.”  And then she tells her family that Mont Mégantic is a Quebec National Park, where you can – isn’t that practical? – rent a cabin and snowshoes over the weekend.  And that there is an observatory on the summit, the largest in Canada, and that Mont Mégantic lies within a dark sky reserve, where there’s very little artificial light and hence a most impressive of night skies.

“Super” says Mike.  “Sounds like you’ve already planned everything.”

“Yep, but planning is only half the job.  Mike, why don’t you do the booking then?  See, they have a toll-free number ….. just a moment ….. here it is.”

Mike sighs and his enthusiasm starts fading, but what the heck, the next day he calls the park.

“Sure, the cabin ‘Grande Ourse’ is still available” the ranger tells him.  “It’s a 45 minute walk from the parking lot.  It comes with four double bunk beds for up to eight people, there’s a wood stove, plenty of firewood in the shack next door, and an outhouse 10 metres from the cabin.  But there’s no electricity or running water.”

“Oh, then we have to take a lot of water with us” mumbles Mike.

“Normal people melt snow” the park ranger replies.

‘I see’ thinks Mike, being glad that finally someone has told him what normal people do in Quebec.  Then he books the cabin for two nights, plus the snowmobile baggage transport from the parking lot to the cabin, and snowshoes for everyone.

Some preparations still have to be made.  Sure, everyone has a good sleeping bag, but Mecki and Felix rather get themselves face masks against the frost.  Then you have to take enough food with you, at least two pre-cooked meals to be heated up on the wood stove, and plenty of hot chocolate powder, for when you are out in the cold it’s nice to have something hot to drink.

Then the trip starts, they arrive at the Parc National du Mont Mégantic.  Once out of the car, Katharina dashes right into the snow, but what she discovers isn’t very encouraging, at least not for her.  “This snow is way too powdery!  How are we supposed to have a snowball fight with that?”  Mecki and Mike breathe a silent sigh of relief.  Snowball fights with the kids have become much more stressful than they used to be.

It turns out that snowshoeing is surprisingly easy.  On fresh snow, you do sink a little bit into the snow, but only a little, so moving forward is still easy.  And on the beaten and sometimes frozen tracks, the claws on the bottom side of the shoes make hiking with snowshoes far less slippery than without them.

The stay in cabin starts with a pleasant surprise.  The fire in the wood stove is still burning, and the cabin is cozy and warm.  This, however, is not so true for the outhouse.

“Brrrr” Katharina shivers upon returning into the cabin.

“I think you set a new time record” remarks Franziska.  But how could it be any other way?  Minus 30 degrees centigrade and the typical outhouse, well, “fragrance” are not too inviting for extended stays.

Early next morning, they set off to Mont Victoria and Mont Saint Joseph.  In the cabin, Mike quickly writes a note ‘Veuillez entretenir le feu’, and Franziska who always keeps an eye on what her dad writes in French – just in case, you never know – quickly adds a ‘s’il vous plaît’.  “Now it says ‘Please keep the fire burning.’  That way we can leave it” she declares.  But what’s this note all about?  Well, one important rule in the park is that from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all cabins are open to the public.  So the thing to do when staying in a cabin for more than just one night is to lock up your gear in one of the bedrooms, go hiking, take advantage of one of the other open and warm cabins along the way, and hope to return to a nice and warm cabin in the evening where the fire in the wood stove has hopefully been well maintained by the hikers having dropped in during the day.

The hike itself is cold, strenuous on the way up, fast-paced on the way down, and all the way through a marvellous winter wonderland.  Everyone experiences his own personal highlight of the trip:  Mecki the view from Mont Saint Joseph across the snow covered forests where the only building you can see is the observatory on Mont Mégantic in a distance but other than that no towns or villages, Mike the narrow trail along the ridge between the summits of Mont Victoria and Mont Saint Joseph, and the kids the final descent into the valley.  This descent is so steep that – at least during winter – it is best negotiated sitting down and sliding rather than walking.

Luckily, there is still enough time for a hike up Mont Mégantic on the last day.  The weather, however, has changed, with dense snowfall having replaced the bright sunshine from the day before.  That, of course, means there is no scenic view from the summit, but snowfall can be pretty appealing too, especially when you are the first to hike through the freshly fallen snow.  When the trails are covered by fresh snow the woods do in fact seem very, very pristine.

“So, Katharina, how did you like it in the park?” asks Mecki when returning to the car.

“Oh, it was great” Katharina answers, “especially sliding down the mountain. There’s just one thing you should have planned better.  Next time, we must have better snow for a snowball fight.”

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